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How Docs Can Avoid Sending "Oops" E-mails


Are you issuing embarrassing correction emails after goofing up your initial correspondence? Here's how to avoid this snafu.

Oops! Here’s the correct link. Sorry!”

Those are the exact words that appeared in the subject line of an e-mail I received recently. And even though I knew from the get-go that a simple error had been made, I must admit that the sender lost me at "Oops!"

Why? Because at some level that tiny oversight - sending a broken link - interrupted my faith in their credibility. Which isn’t really fair, because I’ve made the same mistake.

You’ve probably done it, too. Hit send a nanosecond before realizing you entered the wrong recipient list, forgot to add an attachment, neglected to insert the link, or bypassed a typo. As awkward as it is when that happens, sending an obligatory follow-up e-mail is the only way to fix the faux pas.

But what if you could avoid messing up in the first place? Below is a 3-step method for ensuring these oversights never occur in your communication again. It’s all based on changing your habits by reversing the order in which you compose your e-mails.

1. Start with the end in mind

Most e-mail programs prompt us to compose electronic correspondence in a standardized order. We typically begin by naming the recipient(s) in the "To" box, follow that with completing the "Subject" line, and carry on with writing the body of the e-mail.  We end our note with a closing before signing off with our name and credentials.

But that system sets us up for failure because as soon as we enter an e-mail address in the "To" box, any incomplete or unchecked note can inadvertently be delivered if we hit "Send" prematurely.  That’s why I suggest doing things backwards.

From now on, reverse the order of your e-mail composition. Rather than starting by entering names in the "To" box, begin by moving your cursor down to the body of the e-mail. Then, after addressing the person or group with a greeting, like Dear Dr. Saxon or Hello Fellow Research Committee Members, draft the content of your message.

Once that’s done, complete an attention-grabbing "Subject" line.  Next, add the attachments or insert any links, read the note over (aloud, if need be; it’ll help you listen for accuracy), proofread, and complete the spellcheck.

Then, and only then, do you complete the last step of the process (formerly the first), which is to add the name(s) of the recipient(s). This way, no matter what happens, the e-mail has nowhere to go if you mistakenly hit the Send button before you’re finished.

2. Don’t say Oops!

If you do happen to mess up and send an inaccurately written or addressed missive, avoid using "Oops!" in your follow-up note. That just shines a light on your error. Opt to alert recipients to the change by using the word Correction in the Subject line instead.

You may want to get even more specific in the Subject line with a sentence like Correction: The Research Committee meeting is *Tuesday, May 8.  Follow that up with a simple apology and clarification in the body of your note, inviting people to contact you if they have any questions.

3. Remember this acronym

We’ve become increasingly concise in our electronic correspondence, primarily because of time constraints. However, this trend often leads to our messages coming across as terse. There is a way to combine brevity, consistency, and detail in the body of every dispatch you send. That’s by using the acronym NOTES as a checklist when composing your e-mails.

N = Name: Whom are you communicating with? Greet them by name in the first line of your e-mail.
O = Others: Do you need to include anyone else in this electronic exchange? Add their names to the salutation.
T = Topic: What is the specific purpose of this e-mail? Make sure that’s reflected clearly in the subject line, and remember to refresh the subject line as the topic changes.
E = Expectations: What do you intend to offer or need to receive as a result of the e-mail? Declare your expectation and put a timeline around it.
S = Signature: How can people connect or learn more about you? Include a professional and informative sign-off that includes your contact information, website, and links.

Speaking of sign-offs, it can be confusing to know what’s acceptable anymore. Here’s a quick guide to help you figure out what’s right for you:

Use freely:
Regards, Respectfully, Sincerely, Thank you, Yours truly
Use caution:
Namaste, Peace, Later, Rock On, Hugs

By making these subtle changes to the order in which you compose e-mails you can avoid ever having to send another "Oops!" message again. On that note, Rock On!

Sue Jacques is a professionalism expert, keynote speaker, consultant, and author who specializes in medical and corporate civility. A veteran forensic medicolegal death investigator, Jacques helps people and practices prosper through professionalism. www.SueJacques.com


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